I was recently reading a biography of George Muller, and I came across something I would like to share. After he preached his first sermon at a little country church while he was in seminary, he was struck by how much greater an impact a simple sermon had over that of a complex theological masterpiece.
“The purpose of a sermon was not to show how many long words he could string together or how many important books he could mention. No, the purpose of a sermon was to instruct people about how to know God, and for that purpose, the simpler it was, the better.” – George Muller, Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans
We love to impress people. Many of us spend our lives aiming for success, constantly measuring ourselves to others, trying to make ourselves better. We love to sound intelligent, so naturally, that concept translates over to a pastor preaching a sermon. Pastors are people too. They make mistakes and sin just like the rest of us. It’s easy to fall into that trap of wanting to sound smarter than everyone else. After all, many pastors studied for years in preparation for their calling. Isn’t it only right for them to show off a little of their knowledge?
Although this may make a lot of sense, and many people follow this pattern, it’s not necessary and often even hinders God’s message and distracts from the true purpose of the message. Consider Paul’s words to the Christians at Corinth:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Paul didn’t exude confidence. He wasn’t a shining display of perfection to those he witnessed to. Quite the opposite. He stuttered and stumbled over his words. He didn’t quote great and respected philosophers and teachers. Instead, he allowed God to use his imperfect voice to speak words of power. He didn’t say everything perfectly, but people listened because God was speaking through him.
Excellence still has its place. We as Christians are called to do everything we do with excellence in order to point others to our Savior. This isn’t an excuse for me not to edit my blogs before I post them or for you to say whatever comes into your head. God gave us wisdom for a reason. This serves as a reminder to us not to focus too much on the excellence and forget the reason we strive for it. We only give our best to display Christ. When the focus moves away from Christ and towards how intelligent or theological we sound, we have a problem. Excellence is worthless if all it does is point others to your own greatness instead of God’s.
Whatever we do, we can’t forget why we do what we do. We can’t get so distracted with the how and forget the why. Authenticity is powerful. Even though Paul and the rest of the apostles probably sounded insane, people listened because they spoke with such passion that what they said must have had some truth to it. No one else spoke with such conviction or fervor because no one else had the Spirit of the Living God flowing inside of them. Don’t sugar coat your words. Don’t worry about finding the perfect method to serve Christ. Just go get out there and live like He did! Love others, live alongside them, cry with them, worship with them. Show them Christ’s love in all of its raw power and unrestrained passion. Love simply.